Wife Training

The high point of the year for North Americans has passed with the celebration of Christmas on December 25th, 2016. The same is also true for Armenians with the Feast of the Theophany on January 6th, 2017. Along with special events at churches commemorating Jesus’ birth as described in God’s Word, the Bible, families gather in their homes to share time together and enjoy special foods.

In my own family, those seasonal treats include steamed pudding with brown sauce and fruitcake, standards for a family that immigrated to North America several generations ago from England and Scotland. As the only daughter in my immediate family, the baking fell to me. In recent years, my father and my brothers have consistently handed me their emptied loaf pan post-Christmas as a very broad hint that they would like a refill. I usually laugh, put the pans away, dig them out the following December, and stuff my electric mixer with the ingredients necessary for ten pounds of fruitcake. Of course, that much cake fills more than my father’s and brothers’ loaf pans. The extra cakes I give to friends and neighbors as Christmas gifts.

This year as I made my cakes, I thought about how I learned to make them. Most women in North America learn to cook from their mothers and grandmothers. I didn’t. My own mother became too ill during my early teens to teach me anything. My family lived too far away from my grandmothers for me to learn anything at their elbows. All of a sudden at the age of fourteen, I became my family’s ‘chief cook and bottle washer,’ as the saying goes. And I didn’t even know how to ‘boil water.’ Oh, boy. My brothers, poor souls, put up with a lot of burnt food before I mastered any amount of culinary skills. So, then, how did I learn? By reading and following written recipes. My mother had gobs of clippings in a drawer in the kitchen and a couple of cookbooks. My maternal grandmother also sent me recipes. In fact, the one I use to make fruitcake at Christmas is the same one grandma sent me decades ago.

Knowing the list of ingredients and specific quantities is one thing. Developing the best methodology is quite another. The latter I learned by trial and much error.

Armenian girls of the Ottoman Empire weren’t given such short shift in the area of training to be homemakers and the family’s cook. An Armenian girl received training from her mother on how to clean a house and take care of a husband. Some of that training came from direct instruction and some from demonstration and example.

In fact, when the girl reached marriageable age (usually twelve) and the men in her family had selected a groom for her, a woman from the prospective groom’s family came over to the girl’s home to inspect her housekeeping skills. A white glove test, if there ever was one.

The young lady, however, was not expected to know how to cook. That she was to learn from her mother-in-law after the girl had married the boy. The young couple usually lived with the groom’s parents the first year or two. That way the bride could learn from the groom’s mother just how he liked his food to be prepared (1977. The Bride’s Escape).

Hmm. Yes, that would provide plenty of guidance to a neophyte cook. And it probably resulted in a happier young husband. This method of wife training should have worked well enough, if mother-in-law and daughter-in-law got along well. At least, it would have been easier on the Armenian girl than the way it was with teenage me.

Lavash: What Armenians ate if they could get it (excerpt #11)

Nazli has been able to persuade her mother to help host a henna party for Nazli’s friend Annie. In her discussion with her mother after the party, Nazli is flabbergasted by her mother’s real reason for going along with her headstrong daughter’s wishes.

The following is an excerpt from Nazli’s diary that is included in the book Lavash: What Armenians ate if they could get it.

Chapter 7

Iyi arkadashim, 23rd July, 1914

My good friend, the henna party for Annie was a great success! Everyone had a good time. Mam made such tasty saffron rice with chicken. To drink, she made sherbet sweetened with grape sugar. Annie’s mother and aunt brought almond cakes and grapes. The hammam attendant made Turkish coffee. Delicious.

Annie looked like a Turkish bride wrapped in her white cotton towel and blessed with our henna marks of health and beauty. When we got home that afternoon, I was bubbling over with excitement, of course. But Mam’s reaction to the event surprised me.

“What are you so happy about?” she demanded with a scowl. “That should have been a party for you, not some dirty gavur!”

I stood with my head down for some time. Then I sucked in a deep breath before I said, “Dirty gavur? How can you say that? Annie and all of the women and girls in her family bathed right beside us.”

“Nazli, you know I don’t like Armenians. Never have. Never will. I agreed to host that party for one reason only. I hoped at least one of the Turkish women there might select you as a bride for her son.”

My mouth dropped open. “Mam, how could you?”

Quaking with anger and fear, I tore for my bedroom. To think that my mam viewed the henna party for Annie as nothing more than a baited hunt for a husband for me. As I write this, dear friend, I wish with all my heart that her ploy will catch nothing.

Nazli has not seen the end of underhanded reasons for the actions of both her mam and her mayoral baba. During the months leading up to June of 1915, Nazli struggles to understand and at times circumvent the decisions that her parents and the other Turkish leaders of her town make against her friend Annie, Annie’s relatives, and the other Armenians in and around their town in central Ottoman Turkey.  

 

Lavash: What Armenians ate if they could get it (excerpt #9)

Girls in any culture love a party, any reason to get together with other girls. Annie and Nazli, the teenaged, main characters of Lavash were no exception.

As was mentioned in the previous posting, the most likely place for a henna party for Annie, the bride-to-be, would have been Kemahcelli’s Turkish bath.

“Steam rose from the hammam’s basins of hot water, beckoning us to a refreshing bath. We washed and ate and gossiped. We tried to guess who would be next among us to marry. The older women listened, looked at each other, and laughed at us behind their hands.

When I had scrubbed and eaten, I sat wrapped in an enormous cotton towel. Two Turkish women hired by Zarifeh knelt on each side of me with bowls of henna paste.

“Annie, let me wear your bracelet while they apply the paste,” Nazli begged.

With a smile, I gently clasped the jeweled links around my friend’s wrist. As she turned its glittering links, the henna artists drew designs on my hands, arms, and feet with sticks they had dipped in the paste. Swirls of the warm, reddish gel soon moved from my fingernails, over my fingers, across the backs of my hands, and up my arms to my elbows. Similar reddish designs ran from my toes to my ankles.

“Annie, the artists would like to henna your neck up to your chin. Is that all right?” Nazli asked.

I looked at Mayrig.

“Annie, have them do whatever you’d like,” she said.

“Nazli, these designs eventually wear off, don’t they? Petros might not understand.”

Nazli laughed. “They’ll be long gone before you ever get near a boat to America, Annie, I promise.”

“All right then, go ahead.”

Nazli stood behind me and piled my hair on the top of my head. I could feel the warmth of the gel being swirled on my skin. When the gel had dried, it was brushed off. Smiling broadly, the artists handed me two mirrors to examine their handiwork.

Already awed by the delicacy of the designs on my hands, arms, and feet, I gaped in amazement at the lacy filigree of reddish-brown that rose from my collar-bone to cover my neck and throat. I laughed with delight as I ran my hands over my skin. “Thank you so much, ladies. You’ve made me truly beautiful today.”

“Good luck, good health, pearl of a bride for Petros.” Nazli hugged me, blew kisses past both of my cheeks, and re-clasped the bracelet on my wrist.

The tiled walls of the room echoed with applause and chatter. As they gathered their things to leave, the girls and women pressed small bits of money into the hands of the hammam attendant, Nazli, and Zarifeh. Mayrig gave each artist a tip and a smile.

For a few precious hours we had been neither Turk nor Armenian but women together, celebrating my coming marriage.”

Such a kindness from her friend Nazli gave Annie a fond memory to hang onto for decades. It was one of several highlights she innocently relished prior to 1915.

Bridal Shower: Ottoman Turkish Style

A bridal shower is a common, North American custom that provides a bride-to-be with a chance to celebrate with the women and girls among her family and friends. Such parties are usually held in someone’s home before the date of the bride’s wedding. During such a party, the guests play games, eat sweet treats, and present the bride with gifts that are either personal or for the bride’s new home. The intention of such festivities is to rejoice with her and to wish her the best in her new life.

For centuries now, women and girls in the Middle East have held henna parties for a similar purpose. A friend or family member of the bride-to-be organizes the party, invites the bride’s family and friends, and hires women henna artists. At the party, guests enjoy delicious food and drink and noisy gossip.

But the highlight of the event would be the decorating of the bride-to-be with the reddish henna paste. Applying it with sticks onto the young woman’s skin, the artists draw on her hands and forearms and sometimes her collar-bone and throat swirling henna designs. When the drawing is complete and the henna paste has dried, the granule-like remains are brushed off, leaving the reddish decorations on the bride’s skin. Some of the guests also ask to be decorated with small designs, rewarding the artists with small tips.

A henna party has been the Middle Eastern version of a bridal shower. It’s intent has been to wish the young woman health and beauty.

If a henna party were ever to include both Turks and Armenians during the era of the Ottoman Empire, the location for such a party was a great difficulty. Turks disdained Armenians and were reluctant to enter their homes. And Armenians were seldom welcome in a Turk’s home. Although Turks and Armenians lived side by side in towns and cities in Ottoman Turkey, there were few places of neutral space. The two spaces of shared territory were the weekly bazaars, or open markets, and the town or neighborhood’s hammam, or Turkish bath.

Yet even these common spaces had rules that relegated separation. Women weren’t permitted to do the shopping in the bazaar. A woman’s husband or brother did it for her. If she ever did any shopping, a man of her family had to accompany her.

The rules for the use of the town’s hammam were even stricter. Each gender was assigned the use of the bath on a specific day once a week (1971. Everyday Life in Ottoman Turkey). And Armenians were required to use the hammam on entirely different days. There was no mixing of genders or people groups.

Even then, the hammam functioned in Ottoman Turkish towns as the space closest to a modern-day community center. Such a neutral space was most likely to have served as the location for a henna party if such an event included both Turkish and Armenian women prior to 1915.

Civil Rights?

North Americans often assume that people will or at least should function as if their behavior is governed by Judeo/Christian-based laws or ethics. A teacher colleague of mine discovered to her shock that isn’t always the case.

Even here in the north central part of North America, many immigrants from Africa and the Middle East are our neighbors these days. Just because these newcomers have come to the “land of the free” doesn’t mean they have shed any of their assumptions, prejudices, or culturally engrained ways of handling relationships. When my colleague objected to the way a neighbor had treated her, the neighbor replied, “You’re an infidel (not a Muslim). So I can treat you any way I like.” Remember now, this incident occurred in North America in the twenty-first century!

Evidently, a Muslim’s understanding of Sharia (Islam-governed law) holds that Muslim accountable for how he or she treats another Muslim. (And punishments for disobedience can be quite severe.) Apparently, any activity or attitude of a Muslim is permissible toward a non-Muslim.

That expectation evidently hasn’t changed since twelve hundred A.D. after the Seljuk Turks took over Armenian territory to establish the Ottoman Empire. By 1915, the Empire’s Armenian population had already endured centuries of subjugation as second class citizens (See “Segregation Device: Shoes by Firman,” December 7, 2012 posting). Whenever an Ottoman Turk had a mind to harass, beat up, steal from, rape, or even kill an Armenian, the Turk could do it with impunity. The Armenian had no recourse. Any attempt at a protest usually resulted in more mistreatment.

Justice and civil rights existed only for Muslim Turks in the Ottoman Empire in 1915. 

 

Marriageability Test

Teenagers in North America face tests every week. Schools want to know how well the teens have learned their subjects. Teens want to know: do they own the latest electronic gizmos; do they know how to use such items to their advantage; do the teens and their friends have access to the latest fashions; do they and their friends listen to the most popular singer or watch the most Oscar-nominated movie? And how about the in-crowd? Got any friends in that group?

Teenagers in the Ottoman Empire lived in very different times and had a set of concerns and tests to face that no North American young person would ever think about. Each teen had to meet the criteria of their culture for marriage. Yes, that’s right – marriage. Girls were considered marriageable by the age of twelve (1971. Everyday Life in Ottoman Turkey.)

Whether Turk, Armenian, or Kurd, each culture had its own way to measure marriageability. Turning this stone on the beach of history revealed a criteria for Armenian girls with which no North American girls need concern themselves – passing the white glove test.

In the early 1900s, the prospective bride knew to expect a visit from the groom’s mother and perhaps an aunt or sister. The women would inspect the girl’s work in her entire house. “They would raise the cushions on the couch, check under the furniture for dust, and even open the storage cupboards where bedding and kitchen equipment were stored. If they were convinced that the prospective bride was a good housekeeper, then — and only then — did they put a stamp of approval on the marriage” (1977. The Bride’s Escape, p. 99).

In Ottoman Turkey, an Armenian girl had to pass the housekeeping test, but not a cooking exam, to be considered marriageable. Only after she married her groom would she learn how to cook. (Since the young couple would live with his parents for a while, the bride had ample opportunity to learn from her mother-in-law the best way to prepare her husband’s food the way he liked.)

How many young teen girls in modern North America would be able to pass this housekeeping test? At age twelve or thirteen? Probably zero. At age twenty-one even? Maybe ten percent. And North American women have insisted on being called homemakers, not housewives. Humph. It seems as if something basic is missing completely.

Two Views of the End of Jesus’ Life

The week preceding Easter is the most important period in the calendar for all Christians, including those in the Armenian Church. Christians around the world decorate their homes and places of worship with lilies, intricately colored eggs, and wooden crosses draped with a single white or purple cloth. Christians present special concerts and pageants and participate in solemn services on Thursday in remembrance of Jesus’ last supper with His twelve closest followers, and on Friday in remembrance of His death on a Roman cross. Over two thousand years ago on a hill named Golgotha outside the city of Jerusalem, Jesus died.

The mood of the celebrants is decidedly different on Easter Sunday. The worshippers put off their solemn rituals and faces. Wearing new, or at least their best clothes, people greet each other with “He is risen” and “He is risen indeed.” Church bells peal joyous sounds. In remembrance of Jesus Christ’s resurrection from the dead, the celebrants and their spiritual leaders, priests, vicars, and pastors are joyful. In their teachings that day, they proclaim that since Jesus died for the people’s sins and rose again to give believers new and eternal life, the believers have every reason to rejoice.

In the world of Islam, however, none of the above occurs. My Muslim students not only emphatically told me that Jesus is not God’s son, they also told me that Jesus didn’t die. According to them, Jesus was a prophet whom God took to heaven because he was a good man. There was no death and no resurrection. So the Muslims I have talked to are in complete denial of Christendom’s Holy Week.

Hmmm. … They evidently know nothing of world history or are trying their best to rewrite it. And they definitely haven’t read the Injil, the four Gospels in God’s Word. It says: “And he [Jesus] bearing his cross went forth into a place called the place of the skull, which is called in the Hebrew Golgotha; where they [the Roman soldiers] crucified him, and two other with him, on either side one, and Jesus in the midst” (Gospel of John 19: 17 & 18). “When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said, It is finished; and he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost” (John 19: 30). “Then took they [Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus] the body of Jesus, and wound it in linen clothes with the spices, as the manner of the Jews is to bury…. There [in a new sepulchre] laid they Jesus therefore because of the Jews’ preparation; for the sepulchre was nigh at hand” (John 19: 40 & 42).

“In the end of the sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, came Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to see the sepulchre. And behold, there was a great earthquake: for the angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat upon it. … And the angel answered and said unto the women, Fear not ye: for I know that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified. He is not here; for he is risen, as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay” (Gospel of Matthew 28: 1,2,5, & 6).

“Now when Jesus was risen early the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene out of whom he had cast seven devils” (Gospel of Mark 16:9). “And as they [Cleopas and his friend] thus spake, Jesus himself stood in the midst of them [Jesus’ eleven closest followers] and saith unto them, Peace be unto to you. But they were terrified and affrighted, and supposed they had seen a spirit. And he said unto them, Why are ye troubled? And why do thoughts arise in your hearts? Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have” (Gospel of Luke 24: 36-39).

See? Even Jesus’ closest followers were dumbfounded by His death and resurrection. When they recovered from their shock, they rejoiced and, with great excitement, told everybody about it.

So, along with other Christians, Armenians rejoice on Easter Sunday because Jesus Christ’s death provides salvation from their sins and His resurrection gives hope for eternal life with God in heaven to both men and women.

From the beginning of His life to His death and resurrection, Jesus was living proof that there is a God and He loves each and every person. Jesus is God’s love letter to you and me.

The Muslim Turks of the Ottoman Empire couldn’t have been more wrong in their decisions in 1915. They chose to slaughter their Armenian neighbors, a people who could have shown the ultimate hope for both life on this earth and eternal life with God. Why kill hope, I ask you? How does killing Christian believers save a nation, let alone an individual? Has the nation of Turkey (that evolved out of the Ottoman Empire) benefited from the extermination of its Christian population? Perhaps modern-day Turkey is more like the cows in an ancient Egyptian Pharaoh’s dream. “And the lean and ugly cows ate up the first seven fat cows. Yet when they had devoured them, it could not be detected that they had devoured them; for they were just as ugly as before” (Genesis 41: 20 & 21). The Ottoman Turks planned and carried out the elimination of Turkey’s Armenian population, took over their lands and businesses, and stole all their property. Yet the greedy swallowing of so much left Turkey no better off after World War I than it was before.

So where is hope today – for Armenian Christians, North American Christians, the people of the world in general, even Muslim Turks? Denial of Jesus’ death and resurrection might delay a clear view of our Heaven Father’s expression of love for all people. But rewriting history doesn’t change HIS story.The risen Jesus Christ’s sacrifice on the cross still stands as the greatest hope for the present and the future.